This weekend many of us around the UK have been taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. Birds are a most abundant and accessible form of wildlife, interesting to watch and it doesn't take much by way of putting a bit of extra food out to entice them into our gardens.
My favourite garden bird is the lesser redpoll. They first started to visit my garden last year in the early spring when I put nyjer seeds out, hoping to attract goldfinches. I do sometimes get goldfinches but the redpolls are my favourite because they visit almost daily and often stay for quite a long time. They disappeared for quite a few months over the summer but returned in the late autumn. At present I have 4 who visit, 2 male and 2 female.
Another garden bird I like is the nuthatch, this seems to have spates of visiting frequently then disappearing for a long time. Amusingly I have had a moorhen coming into my garden lately, on Friday there were two. I have no pond although I live very close to a brook. I also noticed a bird I did not recognise and found the RSPB bird identifier tool very useful, it turned out to be a male reed bunting. Since then I've also seen a female. I like seeing birds when I'm out walking too, herons are good to watch on the canals towards sunset, yellowhammers are very pretty and I once spotted a redstart. One of my favourite birds is the kingfisher. This may be because I can remember being out for a walk with my parents at a young age when we saw one and they taught me to appreciate what a rare and wonderful sight it is. Kingfishers are so difficult to spot and are usually gone in a flash.
On Friday afternoon I experienced the most amazing sight in my garden. Three lesser redpolls, the 2 females and one of the males, were feeding on the nyjer seeds, whilst at the same time there was a goldfinch on one side of the sunflower heart feeder and a male siskin on the other. Siskins very rarely come into my garden.
I did my RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on Saturday. I decided to choose the same time of day I had seen the siskin and goldfinch in the hope they would turn up at that time again. But you can guess who didn't turn up, the siskin didn't appear again, the goldfinch was absent and none of the redpolls visited at all during the chosen hour! That is despite the redpolls being regulars and one of the females having popped in earlier in the day, as well as a nuthatch, but no moorhens. Never mind, I can only hope they were all in someone else's garden giving them the pleasure of seeing them and perhaps recording them.
Here is my record compared with last year.
Blackbird 2 2
Blue tit 3 3
Carrion crow 1 0
Chaffinch 1 2
Coal tit 0 1
Dunnock 0 2
Great tit 1 3
House sparrow 8 0
Magpie 0 1
Robin 1 0
Song Thrush 0 1
Woodpigeon 4 3
Reed bunting 0 1
Total: 21 19
The biggest pleasures arising from the birdwatch hour were seeing the reed bunting again and the song thrush. I had spotted the song thrush earlier in the week but prior to that it has been a very long time since there has been one in my garden. What was really nice about it was that it came right up close to the house and watched me back. The coal tit was cute but whilst I had thought I have been getting a lot of coal tits recently, what I learned is that it's much more likely just one coal tit an awful lot of times. It was in and out all hour, but just one of it. I'm seeing fewer house sparrows this year, last year I had a regular flock of 8, this year I've only seen one male, one female, though they didn't visit during the hour. And although the specific data don't show it, my wider experience suggests I'm getting more dunnocks and chaffinches recently than I used to. The other species are much the same.
Bird surveys are enjoyable to do. Back in March 2012 I wrote a blog about the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Since then I have joined the BTO and been assigned a square for the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to be done in the spring. I'm also hoping I might be able to take part in the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey but haven't been assigned yet. I'm not actually that skilled at spotting birds so I'm trying to learn more of the songs and calls and I'll be doing some training, but had to time this for after the BBS this year. Over time I'm sure I can improve. I have had one go at the Winter Thrushes Survey, taking a route based loosely on my BBS square. Unfortunately it wasn't too successful or peaceful, even though I'd chosen a week day. I spotted at least 22 people, 13 dogs, a helicopter, some sort of microlight, a chainsaw and a wood chipping machine. And of the required bird species? A mere 3 blackbirds! I may try again but I've been waiting in vain to try to avoid the other problem, wading precariously through ankle deep slippery mud. All good fun!